JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 1

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

For better or worse, I’m a completist. In 15 years of analyzing Hall of Fame ballots using my JAWS system, I’ve never let a candidate pass without comment, no matter how remote his chance of election. From the brothers Alomar to the youngest Alou and the elder Young, I’ve covered them all. It should come as no surprise, then, that I’m tackling the minor candidates on the 2019 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in addition to the major ones — of which there were 21 this year. That leaves 14 to go.

To be eligible for election, a player must appear in games in at least 10 major league seasons, with a career that ended at least five calendar years ago, and then be nominated by at least two members of a six-member screening committee — a step that can produce some arbitrary results, as I noted last month. Given the backlog of strong candidates, this is no tragedy in the grand scheme of things, since most newcomers have no shot at gaining the 75% of the votes necessary for election. Indeed, the 14 players in question have received a total of four votes among the 140 ballots published thus far; nobody here will come close to the minimum 5% needed to remain on the ballot. Just the same, these one-and-done candidates were accomplished players who deserve their valedictory, so I’ll spend the remainder of this series running through the ones about whom we might say, “They also served.”

Rick Ankiel

Ankiel’s path through the majors — from pitching phenom through a debilitating bout of the yips and then Tommy John surgery to a second career as an outfielder — was unlike any other. As I wrote last month, his mere appearance on this Hall of Fame ballot is a triumph unto itself, even if his numbers offer no reasonable basis for election.

Born on July 19, 1979 in Fort Pierce, Florida, Ankiel was drafted by the Cardinals out of high school in the second round in 1997. Before he threw a single professional pitch, he placed 18th on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, and after dominating two levels of A-ball in 1998, he climbed to number two. On August 23, 1999, just five weeks past his 20th birthday, he debuted in the majors, striking out six and yielding three runs in five innings against the Expos. Showing high-90s heat from the left side, he pitched to a 3.27 ERA in nine appearances totaling 33 innings, and the next year was anointed the game’s top prospect. Though he was kept to a strict pitch count on the orders of agent Scott Boras, he lived up to his billing (11-6, 3.50 ERA, 194 strikeouts in 175 innings), which helped him finish second behind the Braves’ Rafael Furcal in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. But in his postseason appearances against the Braves and Mets, Ankiel suddenly couldn’t throw a strike. In the third inning of the Division Series opener alone, he walked four and threw five wild pitches. In all, he walked 11 batters and threw nine wild pitches in four innings spread over three appearances.

Ankiel’s 2001 season started innocuously, as he struck out eight in five innings and picked up a win, but years later, he admitted to drinking vodka beforehand. After walking 25 batters in six starts totaling 24 innings, he was demoted all the way to Rookie-level Johnson City, and between a March 2002 flexor strain and July 2003 Tommy John surgery, pitched in just five more major league games, totaling 10 innings, all in late 2004.

In the spring of 2005, Ankiel reached the end of his rope, saying, “The frustration that built up, it seems like it was really eroding my spirit and starting to affect my personality off the field. It just became apparent that it was time for me to move on and pursue becoming an outfielder.” Not mentioned amid Ankiel’s off-the field issues was that with his career on the brink of oblivion in early 2004, he had purchased a year’s supply of human growth hormone, a transgression later included in the Mitchell Report.

The Cardinals, who had let Ankiel DH at Johnson City in 2001 to the point that he homered 10 times in 118 PA, accommodated his move. On August 9, 2007, he returned to the majors as an outfielder, and clubbed a three-run homer off Doug Brocail in his fourth plate appearance.

Ankiel hit .285/.328/.535 with 11 homers and 1.2 WAR in 190 PA, then enjoyed his best season in 2008 (.264/.337/.506, 25 HR, 2.0 WAR) while playing regularly in center field. From there, however, the returns diminished. Ankiel spent five more seasons in the majors, including 2009 in St. Louis, with brief stops in Kansas City, Atlanta, Houston, and New York (with the Mets) sandwiched around a two-year stay in Washington (2011-2012). He hit just .229/.289/.387 with an 82 OPS+ and a total of 1.2 WAR over that five-year span, with his defensive value his primary asset.

As noted in November, Ankiel’s career may not actually be over. In August, after he reached 89 mph while striking out the only batter he faced in a cameo pitching appearance at the Bluegrass World Series — a six-day tournament pitting a team of former MLB players against seven collegiate teams — the 39-year-old lefty began mulling a comeback. While it’s been delayed after he underwent an alternative to Tommy John surgery called primary repair, the Cardinals are reportedly interested in signing him to a minor league deal, believing he could be pitching in the minors by midseason. He would be the first player to return to the majors after appearing on a Hall of Fame ballot since Jose Rijo; for the full history lesson, please return to the aforementioned November 20 piece.

Jason Bay

One of the top Canadian-born players of all time, Bay was initially drafted by the Expos in 2000, but never played for them. Instead, he was traded three times before winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2004, the start of a six-year stretch during which he made three All-Star teams and ranked among the game’s top power hitters. Alas, injuries, including a pair of concussions, had a devastating impact on his career, curtailing it before his 35th birthday.

Born in Trail, British Columbia on September 20, 1978, Bay played played center field for Trail Little League in the 1990 Little League Baseball World Series. He went on to star at Gonzaga University before being chosen in the 22nd round of the 2000 draft by the Expos. Less than two years later, on March 24, 2002, he was traded to the Mets in a deal for utilityman Lou Collier, and at that year’s July 31 deadline, he was sent to the Padres as part of a three-player package for pitchers Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook. He debuted for the Padres on May 23, 2003, homering off the Diamondbacks’ Matt Mantei, but played just three games for San Diego before suffering a fractured right wrist when hit by a pitch. On August 26, 2004, the Padres sent him, Oliver Perez, and a player to be named later to the Pirates in exchange for Brian Giles.

In Pittsburgh, Bay finally got a chance to show his stuff. After recovering from November 2003 right labrum surgery, he hit .282/.358/.550 with 26 homers and 2.2 WAR in 120 games in 2004, his age-25 season. He beat out the Padres’ Khalil Greene for NL Rookie of the Year honors, and made the NL All-Star team the next two seasons, hitting a combined .296/.399/.546 (144 OPS+) with 67 homers, 210 RBIs, 32 steals, and 10.0 WAR. Offseason left knee surgery and subsequent problems with his right knee limited his production in 2007, but he bounced back, and on July 31, 2008 was part of the three-way Manny Ramirez blockbuster, heading to the Red Sox to replace the mercurial left fielder, who had worn out his welcome. In 2009, his final year before free agency, Bay set career highs with 36 homers and 119 RBIs while batting .267/.384/.537 with 5.2 WAR. He made his third All-Star team, and parlayed his big season into a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets.

It did not pan out. Bay hit just six homers and slugged .402 before a whiplash-induced concussion, sustained when he ran into the Dodger Stadium outfield wall on July 23, ended his season. He actually finished that game and played two more, then flew back to New York before the Mets’ doctors realized the extent of his injury, which was considered career-threatening; the Mets, who had botched the handling of outfielder Ryan Church’s concussion in 2008, vowed to change their protocol when handling such injuries.

After suffering an intercostal strain during spring training, Bay struggled to rediscover his power stroke in 2011 (.245/.329/.374, 12 HR), and fared even worse in 2012 (.165/.237/.299, 8 HR) while missing time due to a broken rib suffered while diving for a fly ball, and then another wall collision-induced concussion (seriously, who let this guy keep playing the outfield?). The Mets took the rare step of buying out his contract a year early that winter, and Bay caught on with the Mariners, but played just 68 games before being released in August. While he drew interest from teams in Japan, he decided to retire the following spring.

Travis Hafner

For a three-year period from 2004-2006, Hafner — affectionately known as “Pronk,” for “part project, part donkey” — was nothing less than the AL’s best hitter by OPS+, and despite serving almost exclusively as a DH, one of the league’s most valuable players. But injuries, including several relating to his right shoulder, curtailed both his power and his availability over his final six seasons (2008-2013).

Born June 3, 1977 in Jamestown, North Dakota, Hafner was a draft-and-follow chosen out of Cowley County Community College (Arkansas) in the 31st round in 1996; he signed just before the 1997 draft. He made slow progress through the minors, repeating the A-level South Atlantic League and struggling in a brief foray at third base, but his bat matured and his power developed. He debuted with the Rangers on August 6, 2002, pinch-hitting for fellow 2019 ballot one-and-done Michael Young. He made 70 plate appearances over the final two months of the season, and that December, was traded to the Indians in an otherwise forgettable four-player deal that sent catcher Einar Diaz and pitcher Ryan Drese to Texas. His task: replace Jim Thome, who had departed for the Phillies in free agency. No pressure, kid.

Though he missed the better part of two months with a broken toe and a wrist sprain, Hafner hit .254/.327.485 with 14 homers in 324 PA as a rookie on a 94-loss team in 2003, then improved to .311/.410/.583 with 28 homers, a league-best 162 OPS+, and 5.0 WAR, good for ninth in the AL. Thus began his three-year run, during which he hit .308/.419/.611 while averaging 34 homers a year, with a high of 42 in 2006. That year, he led the AL with a .659 slugging percentage and a 182 OPS+ while ranking fourth in WAR (5.9), though a season-ending fracture in his right hand, sustained when he was hit by a pitch, ended his season on September 1 and perhaps cost him an MVP award. Still, over that three-year span, his 170 OPS+ trailed only Barry Bonds (210) and Albert Pujols (173); Ramirez (156) was the next-closest AL hitter. And despite playing just 12 games in the field during that stretch, Hafner’s 16.3 WAR ranked ninth in the majors.

What that stretch didn’t include was any postseason appearances, though in 2007, the 30-year-old Hafner helped the Indians win the AL Central and come within one victory of a trip to the World Series. His stats took a dip, however (120 OPS+, 24 HR, 2.9 WAR), and he went just 4-for-27 in the ALCS against the Red Sox. His play headed further south even before the four-year, $57 million extension he signed in July 2007 (covering the 2009-2012 season) kicked in. He was limited to 57 games and a measly .197/.305/.323 line in 2008 due to a right shoulder strain that culminated in offseason surgery.

Long story short, Hafner never hit more than 16 homers or played in more than 118 games in a season again, as further shoulder woes, as well as oblique, knee, and back injuries cut into his playing time. He was productive when available, batting .268/.361/.453/.814 (125 OPS+) over the life of that extension, albeit while averaging just 93 games and 1.6 WAR games a year. Upon reaching free agency, he signed an incentive-laden one-year, $2 million deal with the Yankees, but managed just 12 homers and an 87 OPS+ in 82 games — just one after July 26 — with further time on the DL due to yet another shoulder strain.

Juan Pierre

In a lower-scoring era such as the 1960s or -70s, Juan Pierre would have been a star thanks to his speed and bunting ability. As it was, not only were his skills rather out of step with a game that had gone home run crazy, but he peaked at a time when the sabermetric movement turned a particularly critical eye toward the cost of the extra outs he created at the plate — while he generally posted batting averages near .300, he only intermittently topped a .350 on-base percentage — and on the bases. While his 614 steals are tops since the start of the 2000 season, he never made a single All-Star team in 14 major league seasons.

Born August 14, 1977 in Mobile, Alabama, Pierre — whose father named him after his favorite ballplayer, Hall of Fame hurler Juan Marichal — moved with his family to Alexandria, Louisiana at a young age. While the Mariners drafted him out of high school in 1995 and again out of junior college the next year, he chose to play at the University of South Alabama. In 1998, the Rockies drafted him in the 13th round and signed him.

Pierre made quick work of the minors; after 107 games in Double-A and just four in Triple-A, he debuted with the Rockies on August 7, 2000. Taking over regular center field duties, he hit a thin .310/.353/.320 in 51 games, and received down-ballot support in the NL Rookie of the Year race. In 2001, his first full season, he hit .327/.378/.415 (89 OPS+) while stealing an NL-high 46 bases and tallying 3.1 WAR.

After a less productive 2002, Pierre and free agent bust Mike Hampton were traded to the Marlins for four players in November, with Hampton soon flipped to the Braves. Pierre was a good fit for Florida’s pitcher-friendly environment; in 2003-2004, he hit a combined .316/.367/.390 (101 OPS+) while topping 200 hits in both seasons (with an NL-best 221 in 2004), stealing 110 bases (including an NL-high 65 in 2003), and compiling 7.4 WAR. In the first of those seasons, he hit .301/.378/.411 while helping the upstart Marlins beat the Giants, Cubs, and Yankees in the postseason en route to the franchise’s second championship in a seven-year span.

On the verge of free agency, Pierre became a Cub in a trade that sent Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto to the Marlins. He cranked out an NL-high 204 hits while stealing 58 bases, then hit the jackpot in free agency with a five-year, $45 million deal from the Dodgers. Though he played all 162 games for the fifth straight season and stole 64 bases as the team’s starting center fielder, by 2008 he had gotten lost in the youth movement that added Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp to the outfield mix. Pierre yielded center field to free agent addition Andruw Jones (a move that turned out to be disastrous) and was more or less buried when the team traded for Ramirez; only when the mercurial slugger was suspended for 50 games for a PED violation in 2009 did he regain his starting job. He totaled just 2.0 WAR in three seasons in L.A.

In December 2009, the Dodgers traded Pierre to the White Sox for a pair of pitching prospects. Aside from stealing an AL-high 68 bases in 2010, he wasn’t much help, hitting for a combined 78 OPS+ with -0.6 WAR. After a solid 2012 season (95 OPS+, 2.1 WAR) with the Phillies, he returned to the Marlins, but scuffled, and was consigned to bench duty once rookie Christian Yelich arrived. His lone start after July 25 came on the final day of the 2013 regular season, his last major league appearance.

Parts 2, 3, and 4 to follow.

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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BenZobrist4MVP
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BenZobrist4MVP

While Travis Hafner is not a Hall of Famer, it seems like a crime he never even made an All-Star team.

BenZobrist4MVP
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BenZobrist4MVP

I had forgotten that in 2004 and 2006, 2 of his best years, the All-Star game was in NL parks back when they didn’t have a DH. And in 2005, the DHs were David Ortiz and Mike Sweeney, who was the Royals’ lone rep.